Parents giving children alcohol too young, researchers say

Filling glasses at the Christmas tableImage copyright Getty Images Image caption Some parents give their children alcohol from an early age

Parents could be storing up problems for their children by introducing them to alcohol too young and ordering takeaways too often, researchers warn.

Two universities found that one in six parents gives their children alcohol by the age of 14,[1] when their body and brain are not yet fully developed.

Many parents may believe they are acting responsibly - but that's not backed up by research, experts said.

Regular takeaways were a risk to the heart, a separate study said.[2]

A team of researchers from St George's, University of London, surveyed nearly 2,000 nine and 10-year-olds on their diets and found that one in four ate takeaways at least once a week.

This group had higher body fat composition from consuming too many calories, and lower levels of vitamins and minerals than children who ate food cooked at home.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Eating too many takeaway meals increases children's calorie intake

Continuing on this kind of diet could increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems later in life, the research team warned, saying takeaways should be "actively discouraged".

When it comes to giving adolescents a taste of alcohol, well-educated parents of white children are the main culprits, research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests.

But very few ethnic minority parents said they allowed early drinking - only 2%.

Using data on 10,000 children from the Millennium Cohort Study,[3] researchers from from University College London and Pennsylvania State University found that light or moderate-drinking parents were just as likely to let their children drink alcohol as heavy-drinking parents.

Prof Jennifer Maggs, lead study author, said:"Parents of socially advantaged children may believe that allowing children to drink will teach them responsible use or may in fact inoculate them against dangerous drinking.

"However, there is little research to support these ideas."

Previous research has shown that those who start drinking early are more likely to do badly at school, have behaviour issues, and develop alcohol problems in adulthood.

Official medical advice recommends that children don't drink alcohol until they are at least 15.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Set clear rules for teenagers and booze, experts say

In the survey, 14-year-olds themselves were asked whether they had ever tried more than a few sips of alcohol, with almost half saying yes.

When they were 11, about 14% had done so.

Katherine Brown, chief executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said an alcohol-free childhood was best and this advice may not be getting to parents.

"We need to see better guidance offered to parents via social marketing campaigns and advice from doctors and schools.

"Parents deserve to know they can have a positive impact, and can reduce health harms associated with young people drinking."

Dr John Larsen, from the charity Drinkaware, said parents and guardians had an important role to play in helping children learn about alcohol.

"While each parent or carer may choose to approach talking to their teenagers about alcohol in different ways, it is helpful to have clear rules and that the conversations are open and honest."

How to talk to children about alcohol

  • Get the tone right - make it a conversation, not a lecture
  • Get the timing right - don't wait until they are going out of the door to meet friends
  • Find a hook - like a recent film or TV storyline to start the conversation
  • Be honest - it's far better to confess to what you did at their age
  • Set rules - teenagers feel safer if there are guidelines and boundaries

Drinkaware has more tips on strategies to prevent underage drinking.[4]...

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The family that doesn't feel pain

Letizia MarsiliImage copyright Letizia Marsili Image caption Letizia Marsili and five other members of her family rarely feel pain

Letizia Marsili, 52, first realised she was different when she was very young.

She had a high threshold for pain, which meant she didn't feel burns or notice broken bones.Five other family members are also affected by the condition which means they are insensitive to pain.

Letizia told the BBC:"From day to day we live a very normal life, perhaps better than the rest of the population, because we very rarely get unwell and we hardly feel any pain.

"However, in truth, we do feel pain, the perception of pain, but this only lasts for a few seconds."

Scientists believe the condition could be down to some nerves not reacting properly.

Researchers who studied the family hope their discovery of a gene mutation in family members could help chronic-pain sufferers in the future.

"We have opened up a whole new route to drug discovery for pain relief," said Prof Anna Maria Aloisi from the University of Siena in Italy.

How is the family affected?

Letizia's mother, two sons, sister and niece all show signs of being affected by the syndrome that is named after the family - Marsili pain syndrome.

She said pain was an important alarm signal and because they feel it only fleetingly, the family often have fractures that go undetected and this leads to inflammation in their bones.

They also experience burns and other injuries without knowing.

Letizia said her 24-year-old son Ludovico, who plays football, has encountered problems.

"He rarely stays on the ground, even when he is knocked down.However, he has fragility at the ankles and he often suffers distortions, which are micro fractures.

"In fact, recently X-rays have shown that he has lots of micro fractures in both ankles."

She said her younger son Bernardo, 21, had a calcification of the elbow without even realising he had broken it after falling off his bike.He continued to cycle for another nine miles.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Fractures, broken bones and burns are often not noticed and don't heal properly

Letizia says she fractured her right shoulder while skiing but continued to ski all afternoon, only going to the hospital the next morning because her fingers were tingling.

The same thing happened when she broke a bone in her elbow playing tennis.

"Because of a lack of pain, it got so stressed that it ended up breaking," she says.

But the worst thing, she says, has been problems in her mouth because of a tooth implant that went wrong.

Letizia's mother, Maria Domenica, 78, has had a number of fractures which have never healed properly and have hardened naturally.She often suffers burns because she doesn't feel any pain.

Her sister Maria Elena often damages the top of her mouth because she burns herself with hot drinks, and her daughter Virginia once left her hand in ice for about 20 minutes without feeling pain.

Despite all this, Letizia says she has never seen the condition "as a negative for our lives".

Why do they feel little pain?

Lead study author Dr James Cox, from University College London, said the Marsili family members had all their nerves present, but "they're just not working how they should be".

He said:"We're working to gain a better understanding of exactly why they don't feel much pain, to see if that could help us find new pain relief treatments."

The research team, whose findings are published in the journal Brain[1], worked with the family to find out the nature of their phenotype - the observable characteristics caused by their genetics.

The Marsili syndrome, named after them, means the affected individuals are less than normally sensitive (or hyposensitive) to extreme heat, capsaicin in chilli peppers and have experienced pain-free bone fractures.

What did scientists discover about their genes?

The researchers mapped out the protein-coding genes in each family member's genome and found a mutation in the ZFHX2 gene.

They then conducted two studies in mice which had been bred without this gene and found that their pain thresholds had been altered.

When they bred a new line of mice with the relevant mutation, they found they were notably insensitive to high temperatures.

Prof Aloisi said:"With more research to understand exactly how the mutation impacts pain sensitivity, and to see what other genes might be involved, we could identify novel targets for drug development."

The family is believed to be the only one in the world to be affected by this faulty gene.

Additional reporting by Mauro Galluzzo...

References

  1. ^ Brain (academic.oup.com)

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Disabled man's cancer care criticised

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Media captionIan's family were told he was dying

The failure to offer a learning disabled young man cancer treatment has been described as a shocking example of health inequalities by charities.

Ian Shaw was sent home to die, but a doctor queried that decision after seeing his story on the BBC[1].

Ian, 35, who has since been given chemotherapy, is now doing well.

The hospital involved has said his learning disabilities had not been a factor in the decision to put him on end-of-life care.

Ian has learning disabilities, autism and epilepsy.

In December 2016, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

His parents say they were told by doctors nothing more could be done for him as the cancer had spread too far.

In February, he arrived home for what his family believed would be his final few months.

Ian, whose behaviour could at times be challenging, spent nearly a decade in secure units, moving between three different places.

His family believe in the units he was over-medicated and his health neglected.

They had to fight to get him moved to a supported home in the community, it was a few months after the move that the cancer was detected.

His parents believe it could have been found the year before when he was treated for a testicular swelling, if there had been a thorough investigation.

In July of this year, the BBC reported on Ian's case after it led to a call for the prime minister to appoint a commissioner to champion the rights of people with learning disabilities.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who had written two reports for NHS England on secure units, described Ian's case as "all too typical" of the continuing failures vulnerable people faced.

Easily treated cancer

Dr Justin Wilson was watching the report on the BBC News at Six and Ten.

He is a psychiatrist who has also studied treatment of cancer in people with learning disabilities.He asked to be put in touch with the family.

Image caption Dr Justin Wilson queried Ian's diagnosis

He says:"Knowing that testicular cancer is one of the most treatable cancers that there is, I was surprised that the decision had been made not to provide treatment and I wanted to understand what that was about."

As a result, a second opinion was sought about Ian's treatment.

"My concern was that perhaps judgements were made about the quality of life that he has because of his severe learning disabilities and because of the physical impact of how the cancer has spread," says Dr Wilson.

"I'm also clearly aware that providing cancer treatment for someone with the problems that Ian has is a real challenge.

"It is really difficult to give the best possible treatment to somebody in that situation, but my view is those challenges can be overcome."

Ian is now undergoing chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital - and he is doing well.

A scan at the end of November showed after four rounds of chemotherapy the tumour, which had spread to his stomach, had shrunk.

Ian's mother, Jan, says:"Especially when I thought there was no treatment and no cure, it was just a waiting game, but now there is hope."

Ian was a patient at Luton and Dunstable Hospital when his family were told last February that he was terminally ill and could not be treated.

In a statement, the University Hospital Trust said a course of chemotherapy had been planned but Ian's condition had then worsened.

A range of experts had been consulted and it had been decided he had been too ill to undergo treatment.

It added:"The decision was therefore taken, in consultation with his family, to start palliative care.

"The trust can confirm that Mr Shaw's learning difficulties were not a factor in the decision to move to a palliative care pathway."

Image caption Ian's family were told he was dying

NHS England says it is working to reduce the health inequalities faced by people with learning disabilities.But neither it nor the Department of Health wanted to comment on Ian's case.

NHS policy is that reasonable adjustments should be made to ensure that people with learning disabilities get the medical help they need.

In Ian's case, he is put under an anaesthetic for a short time while he is given the chemotherapy.

The tumour has affected Ian's spine so he is unable to walk, but after 10 months in bed, in November he was moved into a wheelchair.

In a joint statement, the charities Mencap and Challenging Behaviour Foundation said:"We know 1,200 people with a learning disability die every year when their lives could have been saved had they had access to good quality healthcare at the right time.

"Failures to train healthcare professionals on how to support patients with a learning disability and the refusal to involve families in key decisions about their loved one's health continue to contribute to this scandal of unequal health treatment." ...

References

  1. ^ seeing his story on the BBC (www.bbc.co.uk)

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